On the evening of 3 August, shortly after Anna Hazare and his associates called off their agitation at Jantar Mantar, a lean, bearded man in his early 20s, wearing a black kurta and rectangular rim sheet spectacles scribbled these words on a white board at the venue- “Team Anna should take back the decision of launching a political alternative.”
But the odds were against him. “Look, they have broken the board,” Aseem Trivedi, resident of Kanpur and IAC supporter since April 2011 said, pointing to the wooden pieces lying on the road around 100 meters away from the stage on which the members of now disbanded Team Anna were sitting.
Arvind Kejriwal would not go back on his announcement of testing the political water. His immediate goal is the Delhi assembly polls 2013. He wants his political party, scheduled to be announced on 2 October, to replace Shiela Dikshit’s Congress government.
In the winter of 2010, Kejriwal was searching for like- minded people to work towards demanding the Lokpal Bill. His search found him Anna Hazare, former Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde, social activists Medha Patkar, Rajendra Singh, Akhil Gogoi, former cop Kiran Bedi, and senior lawyers Prashant and Shanti Bhushan- names which would become synonymous with the Lokpal Bill.
Now Kejriwal is busy searching for like-minded people again. But this time for his political alternative. He is aware of churning in his support-base post 3 August. Not only has he lost the support of five of the above mentioned public figures, aam aadmi such as Trivedi are also hesitant to accept the social activist in his politician avatar. “Arvind jee spoke to me on phone over his decision to go political. Even today, I am with Arvind, the individual, but I don’t support his political alternative,” said Trivedi.
Kejriwal also realizes that community leaders who mobilised masses for agitations at Jantar Mantar will not necessarily have the skills and influence to change the voting patterns of the same set of people.
Hence he is busy creating a fresh, politically charged cadre of volunteers. As they will work for the political alternative, one can assume that these volunteers and grassroot workers share Kejriwal’s political ideologies- all political parties are equally corrupt; politicians should not live in bungalows; citizens don’t pose a threat to political leaders; people should have the power to make laws and it is time to topple the government.
These are people who recognize Kejriwal’s work both before and after the Jan Lokpal agitation. They will become volunteers at assembly, ward and booth levels. Each volunteer at booth level will be responsible for 15- 20 houses in a locality. One of the IAC members told me that volunteers for 55 of the 70 assembly seats in Delhi have been identified.
The battery of volunteers will contribute crucially in throwing up people’s candidates through a mechanism which is yet to be finalized.
However history indicates that people don’t have affinity for people’s candidates. One recent example is ex- Army officer Sangeeta Tomar who contested the 2009 parliamentary polls from East Delhi on a ticket of ‘Youth for Equality’ (YFE), an organization known for its anti reservation stand. Tomar, an IIM Indore graduate, was chosen from 53 contenders through a process which involved an interview, group discussion, voting by residents and open house debates. Yet she could not win the seat.
“Voters think that despite all the problems in national parties such as BJP and Congress, they can get the work done. They are apprehensive about selecting someone who has no political background,” said Dr Kaushal Kant Mishra, president, YFE, about Tomar’s defeat. “Delhi has always been a BJP- Congress fight. Only when representatives of a new political party are present in the voter’s mind 24X7 as someone who can get things done, they can expect to leave a mark,” said Dr Kaushal. If the new political alternative is going to adopt a screening process to select its candidates, YFE offers a lesson.
The political alternative, which will be named ‘Anna Party’ in all likelihood, need not look far for issues to challenge Delhi’s incumbent chief minister.
Erstwhile Team Anna’s political venture will foray in to Delhi’s political scenario at a time when the state CM is serving her third term, but her party is drawing flak for being part of some of the biggest scams in India’s history. Plus the BJP does not have a potential chief ministerial candidate, despite winning municipality elections in Delhi.
In fact the Indian Express notes that defeat in Delhi should be a warning for the Congress leadership because Delhi was considered a stronghold.
While asking for votes, Kejriwal’s party will likely bank on the same three issues it harped on during successive Jan Lokpal agitations- Coalgate, 2G and CWG- all instances on which the Centre has found itself on the back foot.
During Lokpal agitations at Jantar Mantar and Ramlila ground, Kejriwal and his aides used to decipher these scams to the gathering. After the 26 August demonstration, he told his supporters, “We wanted to tell the Prime Minister that coal has been stolen from the country. But the police harassed us. It is like the situation when a theft has taken place in your house for which you want police to lodge an FIR. But police arrest you.” He draws such parallels to reach out to masses.
With or without oratory skills, the person ‘in a major hurry’, as Venkatesh Nayak, senior member of NCPRI describes him for Caravan magazine, must realise that forming political party means a long haul. It needs sustained efforts. This is because a political establishment is not democratic but has deep roots. It will be interesting to see if Kejriwal’s association with Anna Hazare, the Jan Lokpal and the India Against Corruption movement will be deep enough for Delhi’s voters.